Robert Creeley

This morning I came upon a sound file of Bob Creeley reading a long (for him) poem called “En Famille.” I hadn’t read or heard that poem before. It moved me very much, hearing his voice, hearing his words. I am stunned to realize that my teacher has been gone for more than 10 years. Below is what I wrote at the time.

4 April 05:  Corresponding with friends about Robert Creeley, who passed away the other day, has been a solace. Creeley was a good guy, and he was certainly good to me. When I was his student, he saw beyond my ruthless go-getter attitude, he tried (without great success) to teach me to go for singles and not home runs when writing about poetry, and he talked to me like a guy he’d invited to his house.  Creeley was somewhat reticent and curt in a New England way back then, and he wasn’t very comfortable in class – a point I made very clear in a memoir I wrote called “Creeley Teaches in Buffalo” that was published in the essay collection “Robert Creeley: The Poet’s Workshop.” It wasn’t that Bob didn’t try at times to get some dialogue going – just that, when he did try, it was so surprising that his students, at least the ones in my class, literally couldn’t speak. A couple of years after I published the piece, I moved back to Buffalo from Stanford and visited Bob, and he said of it, “That was probably the best I could have hoped for.”  I took this as a compliment – him saying that he was grateful someone had recorded faithfully what being a student in his class was like.  About a week later, though, playing with that sentence in my mind, I saw another, clever, very Creeley-like, and quite probable meaning:  “It was the best I could have hoped for FROM YOU, Basil.” *laughs*  Both assessments were probably right.

The Times of London has a good precis of Bob’s career.  It notes that “as a character [Creeley] transformed himself from an originally quite angry personality into an increasingly genial one, and his public readings of his work had a large following. Indeed, the celebration of his 70th birthday at the State University of New York at Buffalo, in October 1996, devoted to readings and lectures by him and others, lasted for three days.”

My favourite Creeley poem is called “The Whip”:

The Whip

I spent a night turning in bed,/my love was a feather, a flat

sleeping thing. She was/very white

and quiet, and above us on/
the roof, there was another woman I

also loved, had/addressed myself to in

a fit she/returned. That

encompasses it. But now I was/lonely, I yelled.

but what is that? Ugh,/she said, beside me, she put

her hand on/my back, for which act

I think to say this/wrongly.

 

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